Sergei Diaghilev, who was terrified of the sea, posing with a life preserver aboard a ship. Photo courtesy DM Archives

90 Years Ago Today: The Death of Sergei Diaghilev

On August 19, 1929, shockwaves were felt throughout the dance world as news spread that impresario Sergei Diaghilev had died. The founder of the Ballets Russes rewrote the course of ballet history as the company toured Europe and the U.S., championing collaborations with modernist composers, artists and designers such as Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel. The company launched the careers of its five principal choreographers: Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska and George Balanchine.


Though the figure that held it all together seems larger than life, Diaghilev had at least one very human foible: a deep dread of traveling by sea. In an interview conducted in spring 1929 that was lost until Dance Magazine published it in September 1979, he confessed, "I am still frightfully upset at the idea of going on a boat and feel sick six months ahead if I know that I only have to cross the Channel...Our last tour in America took place in 1918, and I do not think I shall ever go there again...a fortuneteller whom I consulted in Paris told me that if I made another sea voyage it would be the end of me and that I should be drowned." He died of diabetes later that year.

We pulled a few favorite photos from our archives of the five choreographers Diaghilev championed.

George Balanchine

Kenn Duncan, Courtesy DM Archives

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